Unsurprisingly, a great deal of psychological trauma happens in childhood at the hands of those people who should have been caregivers. Childhood trauma alters our sense of reality without us recognizing that we are looking at the world through a highly distorted lens. Constantly triggered by traumatic reminders, we are living some blend of the past with the present where the world feels overwhelmingly dangerous and we react to it in ways that are more applicable to the there- and-then than the here-and-now. We also have a hugely distorted sense of self, believing that the harm was done to us because of who we inherently are. We can spend a lifetime experiencing the world as the hurtful parents of our childhood and ourselves as damaged, flawed, and unlovable. Therapy gives us a chance to notice these trauma-based assumptions, interpretations, and expectations and call them into question.
Since most psychological traumas are inflicted by other people, it might be excruciatingly hard to trust that help can be found in a relationship with another human being. Books, meditation, bodywork, and other solitary pursuits are all essential tools for healing trauma, but there is no escaping the fact that because trauma happened between people, it must be healed between people. Over the past 30 years, the trauma field has seen some remarkable breakthroughs in our understanding of trauma, which led to the development of powerful new models of treatment, e.g., Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Internal Family Systems, and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. Thus, healing from trauma is possible. And the hard work of healing is worth it. As you come out on the other end, you discover who you are underneath the layers of trauma. You stop living in an ever-present past, constantly protecting yourself from the catastrophe that has already happened. You start living in the present, filled with joy, peace, and wisdom.
Trauma is not just a story about a terrible thing that happened long ago, it is about the effects of that terrible experience on the here and now. In fact, there might not be a story at all since trauma often lodges itself non-verbally in the body, brain, and the nervous system and can only be recognized by the manifest symptoms such as anxiety, depression, worthlessness, numbing, insomnia, hypervigilance, etc. As Mary Harvey pointed out, “Trauma survivors have symptoms instead of memories.”